On 30 July 2003, WOCON, with the support of ECPAT International, conducted a sensitization program on the prevention of child labor and trafficking of children from rural communities in the village of Ajegunle in Ogun State. Ajegunle, a village close to the Idi-Iroko border between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin, is notorious for the recruitment of children trafficked to urban areas in Nigeria, across the border to the Republic of Benin en route to other West African or European countries, and the first stop for children trafficked from Benin Republic, Togo, or Ghana into Nigeria.
The sensitization program consisted of a market outreach and a consultative forum. In the market outreach, Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi warned the community of the dangers of child trafficking and child labor. Armed with a loudspeaker and backed up by local drummers, she gave her message in both Yoruba and Pidgin English. Members of WOCON staff (Simbo, Toyin, Bunmi, Kemi, Mr. Ofo, and myself) distributed flyers, bags, and biros (writing pens) to everyone present.
After the market outreach, we had an opening ceremony where a few community and religious leaders spoke about their personal encounters with child trafficking. Approximately forty people attended the consultative forum – the room was overcrowded, and there were even people at the windows. The workshop was conducted in Yoruba, which presented a huge challenge to me. But thanks to my Yoruba professor at Yale, Mr. Ore Yusuf, I was able to pick up enough to make sense of things.
Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi began the forum with a question for the participants: What is a child? The answers ranged from “anyone under 10 years old” to “anyone between 1 and 6 years old.” The internationally accepted definition of a child is anyone under the age of 18.
When we first arrived at the compound in Ajegunle, we wondered why there were so many school age children milling about. We soon discovered that it was because there is no public primary school in Ajegunle, and the nearest one is 5km away. Even members of WOCON were shocked at this revelation, considering the fact that Yorubaland is historically recognized as the region of Nigeria with the best education system.
This makes child labor an extremely difficult topic to discuss in a rural community such as Ajegunle because what else is there for children to do if they’re not in school but work? We saw a little boy who looked like he could be no more than 7 years old sanding wood for a carpenter for hours on end right outside our forum.
As a result of the poor education system, many people in Ajegunle are illiterate. When we passed out evaluation forms for people to fill out at the end of the forum, we had to help many people who couldn’t read and write. A 25-year-old hairdresser asked me to help fill out her evaluation form.
At the end of the day, we drove to the Idi-Iroko border with Benin Republic and distributed posters and flyers to the Immigration officials.
Posted By Erica Williams
Posted Aug 1st, 2003